This Queer LIT Saved My Life!

Welcome to our LGBT podcast crossover event with the delightful Queer Lit podcast! We enter a unicorn union with guest host Lena Mattheis and discuss the Queer Armenian Library and the books that saved each of our lives. We laugh, we sigh… an unmissable double feature that will turn you gay on the spot.

Episode Transcript below!

Follow Lena on Twitter and Instagram: @queerlitpodcast

Buy the LGBT books on this LGBT podcast at our Bookshop!

Join us on November 10th at Lush Lounge and Theater for our live recording event with William Burleson, author and Founder of Flexible Press. The event is free, but we encourage RSVPs: https://bit.ly/liveatlush

A big thank you to Natalie Cruz., Archie A., Bill Shay, Stephen D, and Paul Kaefer for being This Queer Book Saved My Life’s first Patreon supporters. Their sponsorship level directly supports transcription services that ensure this LGBT podcast is accessible to our deaf and hard of hearing audiences. Patreon supporters help keep us on the air and promote accessibility. They receive a variety of benefits, including shout outs in our episodes, social media mentions, access to live-streaming events, virtual lunch with me, or even better, bring me to work day where I can do a talk and Q&A around queer diversity, equity, and inclusion. You can subscribe at patreon.com/thisqueerbook.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

J.P.: Today, we are doing a crossover episode with Queer Lit hosted by Lena Matthews. It is an LGBTQIA+ literature and culture podcast. We’re going to chat about this podcast on our podcast, This Queer Book Saved My Life. Of course, you know me, I’m JP DerBoghossian and you’re listening to This Queer Book and Queer Lit.

LENA: Hello and welcome to Queer Lit but it’s not just Queer Lit, it’s the crossover episode. So also welcome to This Queer Book Saved My Life with JP DerBoghossian. Hi JP!

J.P.: Welcome everybody. We’re happy to have you all here for this is very exciting event. I’m really looking forward to this conversation

LENA: Me too. Thank you so much for being here and for taking the time. I will briefly introduce you and I probably will briefly introduce myself but it’s a new format for me. So very exciting! JP you are an activist, you’re a writer, you’re obviously podcast host and you do not just host This Queer Book Saved My Life which everyone should listen to if you’re not right now already, depending which feed you’re on but you also created the Queer Armenian Library, a digital archives that is so beautifully curated. I had a little look around and I’m really excited to learn more about it. So would you care to introduce yourself a little bit more and share your pronouns if you want to?

J.P.: Absolutely! My pronouns, are he/them I host This Queer Book Saved My life and founded The Queer Armenian Library, which I will talk about. My day job is as an Associate VP Equity in higher education, which is essentially a chief diversity officer role. I live in Minneapolis Minnesota with my two partners. We also split our time between the Twin Cities and a house in Northwest Wisconsin, super bougie, but I love it. Would you like to introduce yourself to the listeners of This Queer Book? Say, your preferred pronouns, if you’d like to and a little bit about your background?

LENA:  I now live in Southern England, I’m a native German. In my day job I am a lecturer in contemporary literature at the University of Surrey and I love teaching Queer Literature. This is why I started a podcast which initially was a teaching project. I was talking mainly to scholars who do research on Queer Lit to try to kind of help my students get into theory reading but I really enjoyed it. So I kind of just kept going and I’ve been doing it for a year-and-a-half. This summer, I hit 50 episodes.

J.P.: Congratulations!

LENA: Thank you. You just kind of keep going and I look forward to hearing all about the Queer Book that Saved My Life because I really enjoyed the first season. You got to speak to some super interesting people. But I also really want to hear about the Queer Armenian Library and maybe I’ll ask about that first. Because my inspiration is getting curious with Javian who asks scholars to ask about subjects they don’t know anything about and I don’t know anything about Queer Armenian Literature. Why did you start the Queer Armenian Library? What is your relationship to it? What are some cool Queer Armenian books?

J.P.: I am a Queer Armenian American and growing up, I didn’t know anyone else that identified that way as well. I really compartmentalized my identities because there is unfortunately these beliefs with some Armenians that being Queer means that you’re not Armenian anymore.

I think that largely comes from a variety of factors. Christianity being the dominant, religion  of the Armenian people since, you know, 400 AD, when they were the first country, to  adopt Christianity, as a state religion. Also because of how that faith tradition thinks of Queerness as a choice. My family are survivors of the genocide. For my grandparents and great-grandparents there is a belief of how dare you choose, not to have a wife and have many Armenian children. So, I didn’t know I had that stigma anxiety and depression about living in those conditions. I did compartmentalize those two identities.

In my early 30s, I said I need to know more here. I want to start to integrate these two parts of my life. I was on an academic trip to Washington DC with some students, and they were in some conference sessions. I had some time in the hotel room. I thought this is as good a time as any. I had my laptop and I type the words Gay and Armenian into Google to see what I get. I thought I was going to get was a bunch articles denigrating Queer Armenians but instead I found a beautiful organization in Los Angeles, GALAS: Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society. I found a wonderful op-ed in The Armenian weekly which is one of the major Armenian newspapers in the United States. That led to a snowball effect know that op-ed then led to discovering a beautiful, wonderful, comprehensive, long-standing blog Unzipped by Mika which was started in 2009 and had so many reviews, lengthy or mini ones to let folks know about a book that was coming out that featured a queer Armenian or written by one, or the television show, Etc.

When I realize that there was more than two or three things I thought maybe I need to deploy my, research skills. I started using academic search engines. I started putting together a list of Armenian book stores and combing through their online selections and archives. I began using the Wayback machine which is like the internet archive where you can find websites that maybe are defunct is now but the Wayback machine somehow archives them. I could look at web pages from 2003 to see what was on those Armenian websites and White Pages for resources on books or films or television. I started going through all of the major sites like thriftbooks.com, which is in the United States. It searches all of the thrift stores that have books: that have uploaded their book titles. I was looking through Amazon, Alibaba, anything that had an English search engine. What came out of that was a number of memoirs, fiction, poetry collections, films and TV shows.

I had this list going and I was buying all the books and tracking down all of the, you know, stuff that was out of print or maybe had a limited run originally. I want all of them and I wanted to read them, but I realized this process that had been going on for almost 4 years, I realized that I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that. I wish that I could have had a place where I could go to that would have had all of this information. I said, I have to share this, I can’t just have a shelf of books on my bookshelf, and then just keep it to myself. So, I thought, okay, well a website obviously is the solution to do here, but me being me, I can’t just do something simple and just publish a list of books on a website. So I thought, okay, well maybe it had to be designed and pretty and look good.

This is the third version of the website. So I need to have a page where you have a little bit of a bio about the author. There’s a little snippet from the book or the film itself.

Then I also tried to help if people are interested in where they can find the title. So I tried helping with that as well. I even created a Bookshop page: bookshop.org is an independent online retailer that is trying to compete with Amazon, in terms of buying your books and supporting independent retailers. So I became an affiliate. If folks go there and they buy the books from our page it supports us with a little commission but more importantly supporting local independent book retailers.

Then if I could find anything that was like an interview that the author or the filmmaker had given or they were on a podcast or anything, I also included that type of information. One page for every piece of work. In November of 2020, t went live and it became a Thing, I’ve been really encouraged. I know. It’s a very Niche topic that I have been very encouraged to look at the stats on WordPress. People from all over the globe continue to come in and we have like a good number of folks on a daily basis or a weekly basis that come in there and are using it as a resource either for themselves personally or for the work they’re doing. There are a lot of folks that are Armenian and either writers or academics. using the site as well for inspiration or connecting to people.

LENA: It’s very interesting to hear this because when I when I first saw the Queer Armenian Library I thought okay, basically, you know it’s going to be a very nice list.

You’ve created a nice top page and you had some beautiful quotes on there like somewhere you say that “The consistent thread throughout Queer Armenian writing, is its ability to imagine love and speak necessary truth.” It’s already like really wonderful and I think shows that this is not a niche subject, but such an important resource. But then I think the first thing I clicked on was a part of a poetry collection, Queer Fish by Sarah Giragosian and as you said you also had linked an interview and recording that she did. I could then listen, and I really love listening to poetry and I love performed poetry. So I could listen to parts of the collection as I was reading about it and I was like, oh wow, this is like, this offers so much and then, of course, there’s also the element of people can get involved too. How can people get involved in the crime in your library?

J.P: A couple of ways that people can get involved. If you are a writer and you are publishing something that’s coming out and it doesn’t matter what it is; an op-ed, an essay, poetry collection, or just a couple of poems that you have, an anthology, memoir, novel, TV show, whatever.

If you’re a Queer Armenian or whether it is actually about Armenia or just you as a Queer Armenian are producing something, we want that as well. There is a form on the website so fill it out and we’ll put it on there. Also, if you are just a reader or a watcher of media and you want something or know of something, please tell us. I believe it is the most comprehensive site. I’m pretty sure it is the most comprehensive site that is available, but I can’t say that everything is on there because we’re searching a diaspora across the world. Right now it is English based, which is the limitation of it. I know that there are a number of good works that are in Armenian or another language. We’ll have to look at how we’re going to add that work later on. But if you know of it and you like it, let us know. There’s a form for folks to fill out on the website as well.

Big news! We’re going to be announcing our new editor for the Queer Armenian Library who is going to come in and help us add new materials. I am being derelict in my duties. I just have a lot going on and I wanted to make sure that the Queer American Library was still a priority and there are still titles being added to it because there is stuff that’s on my to-do list that needs to be added! Natalie will be joining us as the editor. We will make that announcement and she’ll start that work. It’s a labor of love so that you know, this position for me, has been a labor of love. It doesn’t make any money. My partners are like you have all these Labor of Love projects!!

Natalie will be joining us and already what I love is she’s got some great vision for art and artwork, which I don’t have as much. I thought it was going to be books and then when I found all these movies and TV shows, and musicians, and digital artists, I thought, wow, libraries have all that stuff, right? So why not the Queer Armenian Library?

I’m really excited that Natalie is going to be adding and building up our art wings, if you will of the Queer Armenian Library. That’s going to be really exciting to see the next iteration of the library. I’m looking forward to having Natalie being on board because I kind of feel like it’s maybe becoming too much for me. I wanted it to be about the community since I’m really happy to bring another person to help with that work and hopefully make it belong to the communities and not so closely tied to me.

I will share this because you said you didn’t know that there was Queer Armenian literature and the woman who identifies as Lesbian and Armenian-American is Arlene Voski Avakian. She wrote the first-ever memoir, by an Armenian American and it was published in the early 90s. We reached out to her once the library was going to go live and she just looked so confused, but amazed, because she said,’ I had no idea that there was Queer Armenian Literature.’ So many other writers that we talked to said the same thing. They thought I was just writing by myself. I may be knew of one or two other things or I may have been part of a smaller collective of writers but I had no idea the breath and the scope of the writing. That’s been also very gratifying to me.

LENA: I love how you kind of came full circle. You started with talking about feeling that you’re on your own and then finding community and then creating the library and inviting community to be a part of the library. Also with the fact that everyone can come right in and I love that people can submit their own work as well as things that I know of. That is so wonderful. Thank you so much for doing that. And for sharing that. I hadn’t given any thought as to the impact that the Armenian Genocide would have had in particular on Queer Armenian writing. So that is so important to hear and learn about. Thank you for doing  that work.

J.P.: From a writing perspective, also, when you talk about the effects of the genocide is how Queer Armenian writers are really future focused. I think that is very interesting that Armenian literature on the whole is history-focused. That’s a general thing. And I think it’s very exciting to see us looking to the present and looking to the future about where we are and how we live and love moving into the future. That is very unique and exciting to see that.

LENA: I really like to do research on is geography in literature, and there is kind of, I was just thinking about there often are different layers of geographies and books. And sometimes we have for example a layered past, right? When like memories infuse the space of the present, or we have a layered present where you know something that’s happening at the same time, impacts the place but something that we find not as often but that’s really interesting is a layered future. So for example in Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, just one of the like not so many examples, I found of this where we kind of have a future geography that is projected and layered. I have found that a lot of those narratives like tend to be about collective or individual like wishes and desires for the future and that tends to shape the way the narrative and the space play out, which is a complete run into the opposite side of my research.

But I find it very interesting that you’re saying that and I absolutely must read some Queer Armenian Literature now because this future focus is so interesting, but I don’t find so many examples of it, so that’s pretty cool.

J.P.: I am curious to ask you a question then, could you share with the folks on the This Queer Book audience, a little bit about the research you are doing because it is really fascinating! How we are both coming at books, Queer books in different ways but I love the approach that you’ve had, the little that I know about it. Could you share and unpack for our listeners?

LENA: Yeah, I’d love to. I guess most of our listeners are readers. I have a bit of an unusual trajectory in that my PhD wasn’t in Queer literature at all but based in Urban Literary Studies, looking at geographies and I love making maps of books and stuff like that.

I always had a lot of Queer text in there just because that’s, you know, its good text. That’s what I like to read. It was only sometime after that, that I started focusing more on Queer Literature explicitly and that actually came through my teaching because I love teaching Queer Literature so much that I thought I want to devote more of my time to that. I really enjoyed it. At the moment. I’m working on a second book, but It’s super early stages thinking about Queer form. For example, I really like looking at the very basic elements of text so for example looking at pronouns and how weird pronouns are used throughout Literary history for quick characters but of course it will also have like a Geographies chapter. I’m working on that but it feels a lot less like work these days just because I’m  enjoying it so much which sounds cheesy but it’s true. I do wonder whether we should also do the Queer Book Saved My Life thing because we’re kind of learning about each other and about each other’s works. I’m wondering whether we should talk about the Queen Books That Saved Our Lives because listening to your podcast, I feel like you’ve given like a few potential and tentative answers there already. I’m intrigued to know whether the definitive answer would be like one of the ones you’ve already given or whether you have a new one. Would you like to tell me or is there something else that you’d like to chat about first?

J.P.: I think we both should share. So I’ll start because I have been giving and dedicated listeners will know that I’ve had talked briefly about A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham and this is the book that saved my life. On a number of reasons. I read it in my mid-twenties and I just immediately connected with the style of writing that Michael does. He has three characters: Bobby, Jonathan and Claire. I saw myself so much in Jonathan and how he interacted with the world and Bobby and Johnathon meet at middle school and kind of chart in the first part of the books, their meeting and how they get to know each other and the intimacy of their relationship. I was totally in love with Bobby. Why didn’t I have a friend like Bobby who could get me high: in high school and we could be subversive together and listen to these amazing albums. It takes place in the 70s which is some really amazing music. So there’s this thread throughout the entire novel. Jonathan moved to New York and creates a really intense relationship with a new friend and roommate, Claire, and then Bobby joins them and long story short, I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, is that Jonathan, Claire and Bobby end up creating this polyamorous relationship. So, as I’m reading this book and seeing just queer characters living their lives which was something that given my history, that wasn’t something I was really exposed to just see Queer people living and the conflict of the book wasn’t coming out, or wasn’t physical, emotional or spiritual violence for being Queer. It was just, I’m a Queer person in a Queer relationship trying to navigate the world and that to me was mind blowing. To see that because I just wasn’t exposed to that and there’s a poly relationship and Claire and Jonathan and Bobby, they moved to Woodstock New York. When you read the novel and watching them, do this poly relationship and I had critiques of it. And I had things I was like, oh yes, I want to do that as well. That gave me the mindset and the mental map to understand poly relationships. That was so important at the time, because it just laid all of these little seeds in the back of my mind. In my late twenties, I met my current partners and they were wanting to have a polyamorous relationship. If I hadn’t read A Home at the End of the World, I never really would have been open and had the mindset to understand what a poly relationship is and that relationship saved my life on so many different levels. I don’t know where I would be without Jim and Gordy if my life had just kind of continued on without them. We’ve been together for eleven years now in this amazing relationship that has been healing for me on so many levels, but I never would have gotten here, I don’t think if it wouldn’t have been for A Home at the End of the World and so that is my answer as to why that is the book that saved my life.

LENA: Oh my God, Queer romance is alive and well. That is such a lovely answer. I’ve heard a part of this answer on the podcast, but that is so lovely. I am so happy to hear that. I’m so happy to hear that you are in a loving, poly relationship. That is really wonderful, because I do feel like the poly books that come to mind immediately act like they’re not very positive poly books so I can imagine that on top of, all of the other things, it’s not that easy to find a positive role model in literature, for the things that I’m aware of In at the Deep End is a fun beach read, but it’s like that’s a dreadful poly relationship in that book. Doesn’t work at all.

J.P.: I will allow myself to say that I’m an essayist because I’ve had essays published and I am working on an essay collection right now. I’ve been very mindful because I actually don’t write a lot about the relationship because I want to kind of keep it as a refuge and a haven. And so I do talk about being in a poly relationship and there are certain things that we kind of all agreed that I’m allowed to talk about and the things that I’m… not so much. It’s like this is our private life, you know? This is not a confessional for folks like we do want to have some privacy but I have recognized that there isn’t a lot of positive representation even in non-fiction when people are talking about it and they make it seem like it’s such a chore and like, oh jealousy is such a thing communication is such a thing and I’m like, that’s not any different than a regular quote on quote regular, you know, two person relationship. Jealousy still comes into that. Communication still comes into that. So sometimes I feel like people characterized as having to be superheroes of communication or just magnanimous people when it comes to jealousy and I’m like, no, it comes up there as well, but you just deal with it right? If you’re in love with somebody or somebodies, you find a way of making that work. So for me, I’ve been contemplating a shift to fiction just to be able to tell those truths and explore poly relationships. Just the kind of the truths that I’ve learned and observed that I could kind of put out there without having to like bare my soul. And you know, put you know put Gordy and Jim’s privacy at stake as well. I do agree, there isn’t a lot out there and what is out there just kind of comes from this weird bent or viewpoint.

LENA: I absolutely would love to read that fiction whenever  you plan on writing it because I  I’m not in a poly relationship, but some of my like a group of my very good friends are and it’s always like they have such a lovely and loving relationship, like seeing that and whenever you see representation of poly relationships you don’t really see that. Thats just a bit sad, but in preparation for this episode, I was also thinking about which Queer Book Saved My Life, and then I was actually thinking, oh but which Queer book do I want to say that saved my life because, you know, there’s some, maybe some personal things that I also don’t necessarily want to share on the podcast.

One of the books that had an impact on me was a book about age gap relationships because I’m in an age gap relationship. I don’t actually think that it probably wouldn’t even be an unusual age gap for heterosexual relationships but it kind of feels like when the same situation comes up in Queer, relationships, it is often portrayed as very negative or not positive in some way.

J.P.: My relationship is a significant age gap: 24 and 25 year age gap which is a whole other layer to be an intergenerational poly relationship, but I’m not going to ask about that age gap. I don’t want to pry too much but would love to read that book because that is also something that I haven’t read a lot of are age gap related books.

LENA: I must stress, it’s not the book that saved my life. I remember a shift in perspective from reading it. That’s not how I want you to think about my relationship but it’s called Women by Chloe Caldwell. It doesn’t have a positive outlook. I will let you know, once I find a positive book. But that’s a wonderful answer. And of course, I have to say that I loved all the answers that you’ve had on the podcast. In particular the episodes where I wonder how you did that. So you have some episodes where you just talk to people about the Queer book that saved a life and I love how differently people interpret the saving quality of the book.

But then you also have episodes that you don’t have the office. All those books talk to the people. So you have Alison Bechdel and Carmen Maria Machado on those. Like, I mean, all of the episodes were brilliant, but those was so special. I will also tell you which Queer book saved my life. But can I ask you what was it like talking to those two? I like seeing that must be so special for like the person who is talking about, like Allison’s book to, then get to ask Allison about such a formative thing for them.

J.P.: for the most part and I think there was only one instance where this didn’t happen, every author that I’ve reached out to, or to their publicist and said, hey, here’s the format. This is what we want to do. They’ve all said yes. I remember when Allison Bechdel’s email arrived that she was in, I was literally in the living room, jumping up and down!

One of the things that I wanted to do with the podcast is to say, looking at the context of the states right now and how we’re going in the wrong direction. We’re being attacked. There’s all the bans that are legislatively being introduced and part of me is cynical. I will own that and say you can’t really trust the Straights. I want to hear the stories of the book from the Queer authors. Our stories that are saving ourselves, right? I’m giving life to ourselves. That was one of the main frame works when I was conceiving of the podcast. What if we had these readers but also bringing in the authors to talk about what was their experience. How did it change them? The Alison Bechdel episode in particular, I was the most nervous. It was the episode I was most nervous to do, but listening to Laura, talk about how Fun Home helped her write her own memoir of being in, this is Laura’s term, ‘

Queer, spawn or the child of Queer parents. There was this moment where she was writing her book and just really nervous about how her mom’s we’re going to take it and she was talking about lying in bed at night and having a mantra chanting, you know. Alison Bechdel told her story and lived. Alison Bechdel told her story and lived. For Laura, a few minutes later to then be talking with Allison about how they were both navigating writing their books and navigating the relationships with their moms was amazing.

I’ve literally just muted my mic and sat back and sometimes teared up but also just listening to the conversations and how meaningful they are for folks between the reader and the author is a really lovely moment and it’s something I want to create for folks.

The only times in the first season where the author wasn’t there is because the author was deceased. So that was just a conversation with the reader. I’m hoping to continue that trend for our second season. We recognize that not every author is going to be able to do it because of their schedule or what not but so far, we have that going on as well for the second season. For the premiere episode of Season 1, Nancy, Agabian and Carmen Maria Machado kicked us off. I mean to hear Carmen and Nancy, both talk about how difficult it was to tell their stories and the different ways, they felt they had to go about writing them. Carmen chooses the archive of tropes. In the Dream House, which is her metaphor for the relationship. She considers her relationship to these different tropes. Then, she realized as she was going along that she needed “third person” like an autobiographical fiction and that was how she was finally able to kind of gain the distance that she needed to write the book. I loved hearing the two of them talk about what was the form they needed to tell their stories. I think some folks might listen to that episode and think these are authors and their readers talking about books in this kind of inside baseball way. But Queer people are storytellers from the minute, we realize we’re Queer:  immediately thinking of language and vocabulary, and storylines, and plot and villains and heroes. I think it’s really interesting for folks to actually listen to these kind of academic discussions, because we are storytellers ourselves even though we may not write books. We do tell our stories and finding ways that we can tell our stories in a healing environment by telling it with one person or telling it with a group of friends, I think it’s really important.

LENA: I hadn’t heard, Carmen Maria Machado speak before. I was really surprised and it was quite magical. How bubbly she was at the same time and just like, really engaging while talking about, this really heavy stuff. So that that episode is so wonderful. But then when it got to as you are saying these, like things about form that is something that I’m really interested in and that I’m writing about how types of narratives like on a very basic level shape, how we see things: how point of view in Queer stories does something very special. I thought, especially as you’re saying that in that form where it is, relatable for any storyteller and not just from an academic point of view, that was so special. Thank you for giving us those episodes. I look forward to season two.

J.P.: I’m always in a state of disbelief when people, say yes, because it’s so new. I think people get the point of it and people are resonating with it, but our season premiere, which is on October 4th is so beautiful. The guest for us is Joe Perazzo. So, when he’s talking about the memoir, Breaking the Surface, by Greg Louganis, and for those who don’t know, Greg Louganis is the greatest diver of all time. Literally was the greatest diver who has won four gold medals and a silver medal in diving and has an amazing story of how he came out and living with HIV and doing that in the late 80s and early 90s. I mean, literally he had to do his coming out story with Barbara Walters and Oprah. He’s been a part of Queer history. He’s such a lovely person. He’s so nice and so sweet. How he is telling his story and the backstory of what he had to deal with as a gay diver and living with HIV and what he had to navigate. Then, also just in telling a story of how the book came to be! For Joe, who was a diver himself and how the book came back to him again and again, in his life, not just helping him as a gay man himself and a gay kid, , coming to terms with that and living and thriving in the world.

It also influenced his career because Joe ended up becoming a nurse and working specifically in HIV care partly because of Breaking the Surface. There was not a direct causation but Breaking the Surface did inform it.  It was just really lovely to have both of them in the room and hearing Joe’s story about how Greg’s story impacted his life and I just watched the two of them. I will not be giving way too many spoilers about the episode but October 4th, you can listen to all of it.

LENA: I very much look forward to that. Are there any other authors that you already giving away that will be on Season 2?

J.P. I am so excited about this book: it’s Peter Darling by S.A. Chant.

LENA: I haven’t read it yet. One of my students recommended and was talking about it, so I have to read now.

J.P.: It is a re-envisioning, a reimagining of the Peter Pan story where Peter is trans and it’s Peter Pan is Wendy, right? That Wendy is actually Peter Pan and that trans narrative and trans identity and then going back to Neverland and the relationship that Peter has with Captain James Hook and what that ends up becoming from this, adversarial relationship into this romantic type of a relationship. It’s an amazing read. I recommend it to everybody YA Lit, I believe is the most revolutionary and exciting genre of literature right now.

 

And for the guest, they read the book twice. And it had this life-saving feature in the first sense of helping them understand themselves as trans. After reading it began, gender affirmation. Then coming back to it a few years later and reading it and coming to understand themselves as bisexual. And so to have that narrative and then, Henry and S.A.  had this amazing conversation between the two of them which is again what I want to have happen on the podcast…. So that is another episode that I hope that you all will get a chance to listen to. Please read. Peter Darling because it is a darling of a book.

LENA: I look forward to that and to listening, but since this was the third recommendation of Peter Darling it must be on my bookshelf, very quickly. Thank you so much. It’s, interesting talking to another host, because we are kind of like doing the ping-ponging of being an interview partner and host. But with an eye on the time, I think I should tell you know which Queer book saved my life.

J.P.: Yes. I want to hear this

LENA: My first thought was Alison Bechdel, but it was The Secret to Superhuman Strength because I had kind of a difficult time in my life. I have turned to running. I am not generally into sports when I was younger, not my thing.  I think you know, a lot of Queer kids it was kind of traumatic in school anyways. When I’ve gone through very difficult things, I started running without much thought to it. I saw that reflected in The Secret to Superhuman Strength in interesting ways. Not so long ago, I have been told that because of a health issue, I can’t do long distance running anymore. I was trying other things but nothing gives me the same feeling of running. I don’t necessarily think I need long distance running, but especially in the pandemic, we hold onto a smaller kind of things to do. Reading about, Alison overcoming, all kinds of injuries and just getting into all this stuff and like chasing the same state of mind that I’ve been chasing. That was formative but possibly the most influential, Queer text for me has been not a book and I’m not sure why. It’s a performance poem. Is that allowed?

J.P.: Yeah. We’re a Queer podcast right so everything gets Queered eventually. There’s text and everything, right?

LENA: It’s Orlando by Andrea Gibson and it’s a high-performance poem. I really love the performance that they did with Mary Lambert with some music in there as well. It’s a poem that is not about Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, but it’s about the Pulse nightclub shooting, which was like a dreadful massacre of Queer people in 2016. The poem was published shortly after that. I used to in teaching and I found it very difficult because I can’t watch it without crying and I don’t necessarily show emotions that much when I teach.  I’ve changed that a little bit but I thought it’s too important not to show it. I was showing it and I was really struggling with not tearing up too much and then turning back to class and talking about it. Seeing that several of my students were crying and were not ashamed about it and we’re kind of sharing their impressions. That changed something in me and then I think, you know, I’ve used it again in teaching and I’ve returned to it, also for academic writing and I feel like that allowed me to explore Queer literature in a new way: both professionally, but also in my private life. That allowed me to enter more Queer spaces and show more Queer feelings. After thinking about it for some time as well there are so many things I can trace back to this poem. It has a very special place for me and Andrea Gibson has done a lot of really wonderful things. They’ve had quite a dreadful cancer diagnosis, so they’re not doing so great at the moment, but they’re still putting out all of these beautiful poems and very affirming newsletters and it’s been a really important text for me.

J.P.: Can you give a little bit of the story of it?

LENA: It’s mainly Andrea Gibson describes how they found out about the Orlando shooting that, of course  also had racist implications and how they reacted to it. They describe the, shooting, as well as changing perspectives between a personal retelling of life events where they have felt threatened. I think we all as Queer people have felt threatened or have been threatened. Connecting that to a retelling of the scenes of the shooting site is quite definitely a content warning. It’s not an easy poem and it is explicit in terms of violence. But relating this to these other moments and in their life that they’ve overcome and then you have just kind of writing about this invisible bond between Queer people that is very much colored by trauma, but I still felt it moved me, very deeply.

J.P.: You were saying something interesting about the poem unlocking emotions for you. So I’m curious what was it about it that you feel was resonating to that point? I think stories are important in how they can unlock emotions for us. What was it about the story? What was it unlocking for you that you felt, you could feel something in a new way or in a different way than you had before reading it?

LENA: I think it was the combination with music and performance. I find performance poetry underestimated. I used to make and write music myself. I think that is a connection for me, just the way of performance. Also the way in which even in this very traumatic event, Andrea Gibson, describes the way in which Queer people feel connected, to one another.

And all these moments of Queer joy on the dance floor, excitement about trust precious. It’s still in there despite the fact that it’s such a dark poem. Even thinking about it, I start feeling a bit strange because I feel that for me, describes Queer existence that even in the face of trauma, we can still highlight these moments of Queer joy. We can still think about fun bandanas and my favorite track on the dance floor. I think that really, really touched me. I probably should have written down a quotation or something from it but I thought I wouldn’t do it justice. I think it’s worth listening to. Thank you for that question. I need to think about that more.

J.P.: As a podcast host, we’re always full of questions. I’m curious. If I may, I love hearing folks talk about Queer joy. So much of when we begin to understand ourselves of being Queer, there still tends to be the majority of the themes and experiences aren’t necessarily joy, right? I think there’s more and more for when I hear about kids that are coming out when they are 8 9, 10 years old and their parents are super accepting. That’s so amazing. I’m super jealous but that’s so amazing. So, I’m curious about your experiences with Queer joy.  What do you feel are your moments of Queer joy?

LENA: Lots of cheesy ones with my partner, I have to say that. I think one of the kind of more general Queer joy moments was the first time I went to a large Queer event that wasn’t like a protest or anything. Just going to film night and the audience was 100 lesbians or Queer people who might be interested in being in Lesbian circles. I very distinctly remember walking into that movie theater and looking around and just feeling this flutter in my chest. I wasn’t actually able to place it. It took me a few minutes before I realized, oh yes, I’ve never seen that many of us in a setting, that felt kind of normal, but also just in a casual way, where the bartender’s Queer, everyone is Queer. Someone buying popcorn is Queer. It’s just the world. It didn’t feel like it’s this special little enclave where we get to be.

J.P.: I love that. So tell us what is next in life for you?

LENA: What is next in life or me? Getting to work on my second book on Queer form. I’ve only just started it. It still feels very big and very vague, but I’m really excited. All the material that I’m finding for it is so interesting. I’m reading a lot about 17th century drama at the moment. I didn’t realize the Queerness of it and it’s lots of fun.

If I ask you, my traditional last question. Of course you already talked about Cunningham but if there is another Queer text, if you could give me only one Queer text. For me just like for the library that can be a film, a book, a poem, a novel whatever, which text would that be?

J.P.: Please, none of my Queer Armenian friends, take this has any indication of my esteem and love for your books but I think for me personally, the one that I would most recommend  because this is a book that I wanted when I was a teenager is One Man Guy, by Michael Barakiva. It is a young adult novel. It is the first one written by a Queer Armenian which features a Gay Armenian protagonist: a Gay Armenian hero. If you love Heart Stopper on Netflix, you will adore this novel. There is a sequel to it as well called Hold My Hand and it is just as joyful as the electric yellow cover.

LENA: I think I need this book now. It’s been so lovely chatting. Thank you so much for sharing all of this, it has been so wonderful.

J.P.: This is my first crossover event. I don’t know if it is for you as well but this is been really, really lovely. I’m happy to do this. I will be happy to do it again in the future if you would like to do so but this is been great. I can’t wait to share it with all of our listeners.

LENA: Me too, absolutely!

J.P.: To all the This Queer Book Saved My Life listeners, I really hope you will tune into new episodes of the Queer Lit podcast with Lena Matthews. I’ve included links in the show notes. Lena is @queerlitpodcast on Twitter and Instagram. To all of our new friends at Queer Lit, we hope you will join us next Tuesday for a new episode of This Queer Book Saved My Life.

As always we’re on Facebook and you can follow us on Twitter and Instagram we’re @thisqueerbook. Don’t forget to buy books from the podcast on our Bookshop page and to join us at Lush Lounge and Theater for a live event on November 10th. Links are in the show notes and until our next episode we will see you in the book stores!